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Disaster area grows from record tornado

Gov. Haley Barbour yesterday added Governor Haley Barbour added Mississippi counties with heavy damage from the weekend’s deadly tornado to his request for a federal disaster declaration.

Barbour added Attala, Holmes and Warren counties to the disaster area, bringing the total number of affected counties to five. The two counties covered in Barbour’s previous declaration were Yazoo and Choctaw.

Barbour is requesting federal aid from Washington, and he is not alone. All members of the Mississippi congressional delegation have signed a letter to President Obama lobbying for federal assistance.

“We know from our ongoing recovery from the effects of Hurricane Katrina, which hit our state in August 2005, that significant resources and cooperation are necessary to recover fully from natural disasters as quickly as possible. We stand ready to face this new challenge by supporting the local communities, the State, and your administration as we work together to rebuild and renew areas destroyed by this major storm,” the lawmakers wrote to the President.

The letter also noted the ongoing economic hardship of the affected areas, as well as the need for Congress to replenish funding for the Disaster Recovery Fund administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  A supplemental appropriations bill pending before Congress would add $5.1 billion to the FEMA fund.

Members of the congressional delegation have been consulting with Barbour, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and local officials as recovery efforts get underway.  The issuance of a presidential disaster declaration, as requested by the state, would trigger the release of federal disaster assistance.

In the mean time, the National Weather Service announced that it has confirmed that all of the destruction and deaths were the result of a single, record tornado.

The state’s chief Weather Service meteorologist, Alan Gerard, said yesterday that the tornado measured 1.75 miles wide, a record for Mississippi.

The storm’s 150-mile-plus track was the fourth-longest in the Mississippi history. The longest track was a 203-mile twister March 3, 1966, at Candlestick Park in Jackson. That F-5 tornado killed 57.

Officials say the tornado was the ninth deadliest in the state.

“This storm had everything going for it that we know to produce strong and deadly tornados,” Gerard said.

Damage was reported in 17 counties from Saturday’s tornado.

Barbour said it’s the worst storm the state has had since Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago.

The tornado injured at least 49 people and damaged about 700 homes in Mississippi, with the biggest destruction in Yazoo, Choctaw and Holmes counties.

Gerard said a significant weather system was forecast for this weekend, bringing thunderstorms, heavy rainfall and possible flooding.

“It doesn’t look like as violent a situation as it was last weekend,” he said.

Meanwhile, cleanup continued in affected areas.

Holmes County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Roosevelt March said supervisors were working to get shelter, food and water to residents in need. The tornado killed one person in the county.

“Every day we’re finding new people who need help. The roads were so bad they couldn’t get through,” he said.

March said yesterday was the first day he could get through the debris to people in need on the east side of the county.

“Everybody seemed to be alright,” he said.

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